Church & State: Guarantees of orthodoxy

Watching events played out in the Tron over the last week, and a breakfast meeting with our local MSP, have helped assure me of one thing: it is not possible to legislate today to ensure God-honouring orthodoxy tomorrow – neither in the State, nor in the Church.

The problems in the Tron are really problems of Trust law in Scotland.   When you are a trustee, holding assets in trust, the terms of the trust alone determine ownership.   In a Church context, when the trust was established, the assumption was that the body or bodies these assets were entrusted to would remain faithful to the vision and goals originally shared by the congregation.   The sad thing is this assumption is fatally flawed – humans are sinners, and drift from orthodoxy is inevitable.   The only guarantee is constant vigilance and action to protect the spiritual witness of the Church from the wolves who would destroy it from within.   This is part of what the Reformers meant by semper reformada.   You can’t stop the tide, so you must always be reformed, always restate your confession, to boldly contend for the truth.   It is part of what John Piper calls “a wartime mentality”.   Sadly for the Tron, the Church of Scotland dropped that ball a long time ago.

But today Scotland is facing the same sort of problem at a State level.   Our State fore-fathers long ago adopted Presbyterianism as the religion to be cherished at the heart of the nation.   But Establishment is virtually irrelevant in modern Scotland, and it seems as if it will be hard to even persuade the State of a looser “sphere-sovereignty” these days.   It is only now that Churchmen in Scotland are wakening to the reality that this erosion is nearly complete.   But many are not yet awake to the truth that it can’t be restored by mere appeals to aged Acts of Parliaments, or “Covenants” of long ago.   The only guarantee is constant vigilance and action to protect the spiritual witness of the Church from the wolves who would destroy it from without.   (The terrifying Erastian cry of David Cameron that the Church of England “get with the programme” is just as much a threat to liberty as outright secularism.)

Our local MSP was commenting on Saturday morning that for 30 years or more, Christians have themselves silenced their witness in the public square, the workplace, or where ever people discuss ideas (the pub on a Tuesday night?).   It is little wonder that it was so easy for the Scottish Parliament to be reinstated with no formal statement of Church-State relation in the largely secular Scotland Act (1998).   Sadly for Scotland, it seems we, the Church in Scotland, dropped the ball a long time ago.

It is not possible to legislate today to ensure God-honouring orthodoxy tomorrow – neither in the State, nor in the Church.   Only a program of constant vigilance, and the hardships that wartime mentality will demand, can secure our Reformation.

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